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AMU Emergency Management Original Public Safety

Rephrasing Mass Shooting Events to Mass Casualty Incidents

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By Allison G. S. Knox
Contributor, EDM Digest

Active shooter situations are again on the front pages following the recent fatal shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas.

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While concern for the growing number of active shooter incidents in the U.S. is nearly universal, the term “active shooter” is changing in homeland security and emergency management organizations because mass casualty situations are changing.

The term “active assailant” is becoming more common because it’s more inclusive of the types of mass casualty incidents that are occurring. This change is particularly evident from the recent attack at an animation studio in Kyoto, Japan.

Fire Attack in Japan Killed 33 People and Injured 35 Others

The attack involved an individual who used fire as a weapon to conduct mass murder. According to media accounts, 33 individuals were killed, while another 35 were injured in the blaze.

Guns were not involved, yet it is clear that the assailant certainly was hoping to kill as many people as he could. The attack is a clear demonstration that mass casualty incidents are not always perpetrated by an active shooter. There are far more deadly ways for an assailant to murder a lot of innocent people. In this case, “active assailant” best describes the perpetrator of that horrendous attack.

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Rephrasing Active Assailant Can Include Active Shooter

In the homeland security and emergency management world, the term has started to change from “active shooter” to “active assailant.” The Department of Homeland Security has a resource page that lists “active assailants” along with “active shooters” on the same page. The former is far more inclusive than the latter.

Similar to changing the emergency planning wording to “all hazards” to be more inclusive,”active assailant” has the same effect. It broadens the focus of mass casualty incidents involving firearms and includes an all-hazard approach. This wording is important because it helps the general public to understand that there are many ways to categorize mass casualty incidents, potentially affecting how citizens should prepare for emergencies.

Proper phrasing is important because it involves connotations and meanings. Numerous experts have discussed how the phrasing of a concept can impact political decisions. An article in Psychology Today noted how political phrasing can be highly suggestive. Rephrasing “active shooter” to the more inclusive “active assailant” will do more to encompass the ideas, training and resources needed to address mass casualty incidents.

Allison G. S. Knox teaches in the fire science and emergency management departments at American Military University and American Public University. Focusing on emergency management and emergency medical services policy, she often writes and advocates about these issues. Allison serves as the At-Large Director of the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians, Secretary & Chair of the TEMS Committee with the International Public Safety Association and as Chancellor of the Southeast Region on the Board of Trustees with Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society in Social Sciences. Prior to teaching, she worked for a Member of Congress in Washington, D.C. and in a Level One trauma center emergency department. Passionate about the policy issues surrounding emergency management and emergency medical services, Allison often researches, writes and advocates about these issues. Allison is an emergency medical technician and holds four master’s degrees.

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